This post is from the blog Around the World in Katie Days by Kate who is studying in Utrecht.

How do you study abroad when you’re an introvert?

This is the question I asked myself over and over when I was preparing to go abroad, and it’s the question I’ve been wondering since I showed up here.

Every study abroad forum says roughly the same thing: “Say yes to everything! Go to all of the parties and events thrown for internationals! Do everything you possibly can! Meet so many people!”

I spent my entire freshman year at OU avoiding this exact thing. I don’t like parties. I don’t like crowded places, especially crowded pubs/bars. I need my alone time, and I need a lot of it.

Also, I hate doing things just because someone told me I had to.

When I’m at home, every evening is basically the same: all four of us sit in four different rooms (unless a really good game show is on). Occasionally, someone will yell at someone else, or I will yell an answer to Jeopardy. When I was living in the dorms, my roommate, Christiana, and I could sit together for hours without ever saying a word. This works for me. I’m not lonely or bored or depressed, nor am I socially stunted. I’m happy to go to things I’m interested in and participate in things I love, as is Christiana, as are the members of my family. That’s just how we introverts work.

I get to Europe, and all of sudden this social interaction is supposed to be attractive to me? If I said yes to everything, I’d be in bars with too-loud music, coughing from the smoke, and politely declining beer (which I don’t drink—another strike!). I’d be miserable.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not sitting alone in my apartment all day. I have lots of friends here, and I’m not crying from homesickness. I’m pretty happy, but I’m not some super cool party person all of a sudden. I’m still me.

So, what do you do if you’re an introvert abroad?

1. Don’t be completely antisocial. I’m friendly to the people in my apartment. I smile at them in the kitchen and halls; I recognize them when I’m not at home. I talk to them when I see them, and I do my fair share of cleaning. This tends to endear you to people.

2. Say yes to the things you can handle. I can’t handle smoky bars, both because I hate them and because I have asthma, so I don’t say yes to those. I don’t like beer, and I don’t want to get drunk, so I don’t say yes to those things. I do say yes to going to clubs where the smoke is manageable, trips to the grocery store with people, to walking to orientation together, to going downtown to the city centre with people. I push my comfort zone sometimes, which I think is important when trying new things, but I know my boundaries and I respect them.

3. Have goals. I like lists. You’ve probably noticed that by now. I especially like to-do lists; I like them so much that I have an app on my MacBook called iProcrastinate. It makes lists for me AND I get to color code them. It’s sort of a dream come true, honestly. I use iProcrastinate to set goals of things I will accomplish each day. For example:

Tuesday—Figure out how to do laundry.

Wednesday—Mail something at the nearest post office. Go to HEMA and buy tape and maybe room or bike decorations. Find the Aldi and buy food.

Thursday—Go to IKEA! Buy a broom and maybe a Swiffer.

Friday—Meet my Dutch mentors.

Saturday—Climb the Domtoren with some of my roommates.

This forces me to, you know, put down the computer and interact with Utrecht. Usually, I do way, way more than I plan. That’s great. Some days, like today, I only accomplish the one thing. Whatever.

I suppose my answer to my question is: you just do it. You stay true to yourself, you do things and see things without abandoning who you are, and you’ll do just fine.


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